The digital advertising space is undergoing a seismic shift. With the removal of third-party cookies by Google, we’re firmly entering a privacy-first reality. Combined with the deprecation of IDFA by Apple, the reliance on third-party data is fading, and the traditional modes of operation are being upended. These changes, while enhancing user privacy, pose significant challenges for user acquisition (UA) strategies that have long relied on demographic and behavioral targeting.

Strategies that once depended on access to user data must now pivot towards more secure, privacy-compliant methods. This transition is complex and resource-intensive. It signals a significant transformation in how digital advertising operates. The need for innovative approaches in building effective UA strategies has become not just necessary, but imperative.

Previously, we unpacked all of the reasons that it’s so important for the ad creative you’re testing to be resonant and engaging. In this article, we’ll explore a strategy you can take to making more resonant and engaging ad creative in a privacy-first world.

The Need for Innovation

By now this conversation has moved through the five stages of grief into the acceptance phase. The ad tech industry is scrambling for solutions. Targeting won’t disappear, it will just become more complex and covert. Workarounds like SKAdNetworks, fingerprinting, and clean rooms are in the mix, setting UA teams up to play an endless game of whack-a-mole. Just as one workaround becomes standard, another policy change could eliminate it.

For many UA teams, this represents a breaking point. It’s time to find a sustainable solution for user acquisition. But what if the solution doesn’t require a significant leap in innovation? What if this new era of advertising doesn’t require a groundbreaking new innovation, but rather a proven strategy amplified by new technology for better effectiveness? As cookies phase out, video game marketing’s most discussed strategy isn’t an elusive new form of fingerprinting — it’s creative optimization.

Creative Optimization is an Indispensable Strategy

Creative optimization is a strategy used by UA teams that involves tailoring ad creative to align with the psychological factors of high-value target audiences — like their motivations, communication styles, emotions, and values — by gaining a thorough understanding of these traits. It maximizes the effectiveness of advertising campaigns while respecting user privacy.

This is distinct from dynamic creative optimization (DCO), which optimizes live campaigns to find the best performing combination of creative elements. In our context, creative optimization occurs in the creation stage, before A/B testing, DCO, or any other post-launch refinement occurs.

How does creative optimization compare to targeting based on demographics and behavior? With demographic and behavior-based targeting, marketing teams produce a large, varied body of creative content. This content can be customized based on in-flight performance with various demographic groups, considering any affinity data accessible.

For instance, suppose you’re promoting a new golf video game. Your target audience might be 18-35-year-old male video game players who like golf. These interests are determined by third-party cookie tracking or data provided by platforms like Meta and Google. You then create numerous ads, each with different creative elements, to test their success with the target audience.

Eventually, you hope that one or more ads will stand out. You also hope it will be clear why certain ads were successful while others weren’t. Was it the copy, art style, or narrative that made the difference? Ideally, these factors should be clear before ad fatigue sets in and it’s time to scale. You can then create more ads based on the successful elements, still targeting the 18-35-year-old male video game players who like golf.

This is the basic strategy that UA teams have been relying on for over a decade. It isn’t that it’s the most effective strategy. Almost everyone knows that targeting is low on the totem pole from an efficacy standpoint. It has simply been the easiest, and the standard mode of operating in a world where big data dominates.

The Rise of Creative Optimization

Creative optimization represents a move away from a testing-first approach to a creative-first approach, emphasizing the importance of deeply understanding an audience. This understanding allows for the decisive creation of campaigns that resonate on a personal level, engaging audiences through emotions, values, and intrinsic motivations.

It also sets up a much needed sunset of fake ads, deep fakes, and disingenuous messaging tactics that have become endemic in an increasingly desperate environment. When creative teams have true clarity around what their target audience will respond to and why, there is no need to trick them.

The success of marketing campaigns relies on their ability to resonate with a target audience. If an ad effectively connects with an audience’s wants, needs, desires, and motivations, it has a high likelihood of resonating, and thus a high likelihood of converting.

Knowing what resonates is different than knowing what succeeds. Teams often A/B test their way to a successful ad without actually understanding why it worked. They recognize an ad was successful, but don’t understand why. When you know what resonates based on your understanding of your audience, you inherently understand the ‘why’, and your creative is built directly from it.

Creative Optimization as an Art

How does this work in practice? Let’s take our new golf video game as an example. Since we understand the audience’s intrinsic motivations, we know they play games because they are looking to feel productive, they compete for personal enhancement, do not believe in luck, and enjoy learning new things.

While this example data is just the tip of the iceberg from a player psychology perspective, it already unlocks a world of creative possibility that demographics and interests can never touch. It unwraps ‘why’ your audience wants to invest time and resources into your game, and tells you what to create to get them to convert. Every campaign becomes a testament to the power of deep audience understanding, rather than a fact-finding mission built on pray and spray creative development.

The Long-Term Benefits of Creative Optimization

Creative optimization comes with numerous long-term benefits. First, it allows you to predictably create high-performing creative assets that reduce CPIs and increase your ROAS. By understanding what creatives resonate best with your target audience, you raise both the floor and the ceiling of your campaign performance. You make A/B testing and DCO far more efficient, and can effectively target your high value audiences in a privacy-first world.

Attracting a player base through creative optimization has the added benefit of bringing players into your game that you know are a very good fit for your experience. Messaging based on motivations and values function as a sort of anti-messaging, too. People who do not share these traits are unlikely to convert. They may even find the ads off-putting — and that’s a good thing. They aren’t a good fit for your game, so why waste time and resources trying to engage them? Instead, you build a player base filled with your ideal target audience, making engagement and retention easier to design for.

Navigating the Challenges of Implementing Creative Optimization

So far, creative optimization has sounded like an easy process that most UA teams would easily benefit from implementing. But at this point, only a handful of them are. Why? Because gaining the deep audience insights that make it possible was previously a complex process. It involved building insights teams, qualitative data gathering initiatives like surveys and interviews, and the creation of scientifically-derived personas. Doing this at scale was challenging — doing it with the scientific validity to build a UA strategy around, even more so.

Today, audience intelligence tools like Solsten have made this process significantly easier. Predictably creating high-performing creative assets by understanding what creatives resonate best with your target audience is no longer a cost-constrained process.

A Holistic Approach to Marketing in a Privacy-First World

Creative optimization based on scientific traits like motivations and values is a potent strategy to take even your best performing creatives to another level — but it shouldn’t be your only strategy. Instead, it’s an important first step in a multi-faceted approach that includes A/B testing, competitor analysis, and DCO. Creative optimization will raise both the floor and ceiling of your campaigns, but these other optimization methods will make your campaigns even more efficient.

It’s Time to Embrace a Sustainable Strategy

The bottom line? Targeting is not what it used to be — and it’s about to get worse. Rather than bemoan a privacy-first world and search for ways to work around it, marketers should adopt a sustainable strategy that is more effective anyways. Creative optimization stands not only as a response to the challenges posed by a privacy-first digital landscape but as a testament to the power of creativity and deep audience understanding in forging meaningful connections. By embracing creative optimization, UA teams can look to a future where advertising is not just seen but felt. The death of cookies can give us a new era of engagement that is better for both players and studios. The answer isn’t a new, sophisticated form of tracking. It’s creative optimization.

Ready to unlock the power of creative optimization and craft campaigns that truly resonate with your audience? Check out our comprehensive guide to audience intelligence tools and start optimizing your ad creative today.